Chinese Checkers

  • The history of Halma

Halma was invented by an American professor from Boston (Massachusetts), Dr. George Howard Monks (1853-1933) between 1883 and 1884. Monks was an thoracic surgeon at Harvard Medical School. George's brother Robert Monks was in England in 1883 or 1884 and Robert wrote to his brother and described the British game of Hoppity.

G.W. Monks took a couple of suggestions from Hoppity and developed Halma. Knowledge about Hoppity is scarce and it is not clear how strong the connection is between Hoppity and Halma regarding gameplay and game board design. But Halma is not supposed to infringe on Hoppity's copyright.



Image from Clendening Library
Portrait Collection

Dr. Thomas Hill (1818-1891), a mathematician, teacher and preacher, apparently helped in the development of the game, and it was he who named the game "Halma"; which is Greek for "Jump".

Hill was President of Harvard College between 1862-1868 and was Robert Monks father-in-law.


Image from 
Unitarian Universalist

Halma was first published in the United States in 1885 by E.I. Horsman Company (which called themselves "The Halma Company"). There was controversy surrounding Halma in the US as Milton Bradley Company also laid claim to the rights. It is unclear wherever there was any legal battles; but later Milton Bradley either lost the battle or backed down. They then produced and marketed a modified version as Eckha (see Variations page) in 1888-1889.

Parker Bros.' claim that George H. Monks sold the patent for Halma to them are unverified.

In England Spears Co. was definitely producing Halma games in July, 1893, the earliest date for which there exists records of individual product.

Halma is the only 19th Century internationally-known classic game to have originated in the United States. It is also the only 19th Century American game still played in many countries around the world. Halma was last manufactured in the U.S. by Parker Bros in 1961 and has almost disappeared and been replaced by it's successor Chinese Checkers.

Halma is a game for 2 or 4 players (some rare, early versions of the game also explains rules for three players) and played on a flat square game board with 256 spaces (16x16). 19 pieces each in a two-player game, 13 pieces each in a four player game. In the rare three player game, each player has 15 pieces. In board games terminology, Halma (and Chinese Checkers) is part of the traversal branch of space games.

Halma

Halma - pg. 51- Whitehill, Bruce:
Americanopoly

Text and image from: Tradgames.org:"A simple
cardboard version without the pieces.  A sticker on
the board read "Halma Pat. May 29 1888. Published
by E.I. Horsman, New York. Copyrighted 1885"."

Halma 1890

Halma - pg. 125 - Whitehill, Bruce:
American Games

Two things make Halma unique:

1) The number of pieces used at the start depends upon the number of players
2) Jumped pieces are never captured or removed from the board

 



 

  • The history of Chinese Checkers

Chinese Checkers is based on Halma and the only difference is that it is played on a six-pointed star-shaped game board and then can be played by 2 to 6 players. Each player has only 10 pieces each and the distance to the opponents home arena  is fewer spaces away than in standard Halma. In some modern versions for children the board is smaller and the player have only six pieces each. In a two-player game many prefers to play with 15 pieces each.

The first game of Chinese Checkers was published and patented by the German game company Ravensburger (Otto Robert Maier) under the name Stern-Halma (stern means star in English; Star-Halma) in 1892. Spears & Sons introduced the star board to England in 1909.

The first Chinese Checkers game to be published in the United States was 'Hop Ching Checkers' in 1928 by J. Pressman & Co. This was exact the same game as the 1892 Star-Halma. The brothers Bill and Jack Pressman made up the name 'Chinese Checkers' during or shortly after 1928. The game was given a Chinese name and theme in keeping with the current interest in all things oriental (among them the discovery of King Tut's tomb in 1922 and the 'mah jongg' game that was introduced in 1923). 

  
In the 1930s a craze for Chinese Checkers swept across America. Several other manufactures started to make the game. Many were given other names; but since no one seemed to own the rights to the name; many were just called Chinese Checkers. Why this happened is unanswered. The Milton Bradley Company got a patent on Chinese Checkers thirteen years later (1941). This is also very odd. 

Illustration is of the Straits Mfg. Co. 1938 edition (image from AbstractStrategy.com)

 
An interesting question is why Halma is still favored in many European countries (especially in Germany) while almost disappeared in others and replaced with Chinese Checkers? Remember also that Chinese Checkers is called Halma many places (again especially in Germany). Note how many of the Chinese Checkers computer games on this site who comes from Germany are always named Halma...




Some random notes:
According to some sources (unverified)  the game is called is called 'Tiao4 Qi2' or 'Tiau-qi' (Jump Chess, Jumping Chess or 'the jumping-game') in China. The game board is a six-pointed star like the Star of David, but it is unrelated to Judaism.
It is not likely that the layout of the board is inspired by the six-pointed star on the Chinese flag. It has no relationship to either China or Checkers (Draught). David Parlett's (The Oxford history of Board games, 1999, pg. 133) claim that Halma '..has also been known as Hoppity, in hopes of appealing to a classically uneducated market' are wrong according to the research of Bruce Whitehill.


Printed sources:

Parlett, David: The Oxford history of Board games, Oxford University Press, 1999. ISBN: 0-19-212998-8

Whitehill, Bruce: American Games: a historical perspective. In: Board Game Studies 2, 1999, p.125

Whitehill, Bruce: Halma & Chinese Checkers: Origins and Variations, pg. 37-47. In: Step by Step: proceedings of the 4th Colloquium, Board Games in Academia, Editions Universitaires Fribourg Suisse, 2002. ISBN: 2-8271-0934-4

Whitehill, Bruce: Americanopoly. America as seen through its games, ed. by the Swiss Museum of Games, 2004, pp.50-51


Online sources:

For a list of game names, see AbstractGames.com. But they are missing one; Star Checkers (see the link above to Kansas State Historical museum)



2004 -2011 Vegard Krog Petersen


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